I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, I ticked something off it this week. My son and I shared a hot air balloon flight with extended family over the Gold Coast, as a 21st birthday gift. I don’t like heights, and I’m disproportionally long-limbed, which means my centre of gravity is very low, about the same height as the basket we scrambled into in at first light. So I had reason for concern. But I needn’t have worried.
A tilt of the basket, a lilt as it gently swung back, and we climbed. In barely two minutes we were at 300m. The only sound was the occasional blistering burst from the gas burner, and the oohs and aahs of us balloon virgins. Because we were being carried with the wind, the air was calm. Later, the pilot told us about a jump from 40,000 feet that he is planning. The winds at that altitude are 350kph, and yet you feel nothing, with only the gps to let you know you are rocketing across the countryside.
Over swamps, houses, golf courses, forests as the sun shone its first rays upon us. I could smell the sweet, damp earth, hear the calls of magpies and lorikeets in the trees. The last few minutes we hovered a few metres over houses and waved at bleary-eyed residents in their pjs. The only safety warning was regarding touch down: We were shown the brace position and cautioned that it can be very rough. It was not. We eased gently back down into a paddock with a kiss of the earth.The entire experience was magic. It’s hackneyed and over-used, but it is the only word I have to describe it.
As method of transport, it’s inefficient, slow, expensive, and worst of all, impossible to direct. You go where the wind takes you. The wicker basket is antiquated, yet oddly comforting in its shared connection with the earth. There’s no protection from the elements, which enlivens the senses. There are no tray tables to return, no wifi to connect your ipad to, no airport to arrive at, no taxi to take you away. Mercifully.
Invented in the late 18th century by Frenchmen Pilatre De Rozier, its primary value today is novelty sightseeing. I live under the northern approach of the 11th busiest aircraft flight path in the world, and I wonder what it would be like, if instead of the constant growl of engines, I was greeted by a silent parade of colour lofted over my roof. Knowing the planet is not having its resources plundered or the ecosystem getting dangerously heated in the process. That people are taking their time, sharing their lives as they stand shoulder to shoulder (life stories were shared in our one hour flight, so unlike the sterile anonymity of civil aviation).
We are birthed out of darkness, we rise in the first half of life, thinking we are setting our own course in life. As John Lennon said, “life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.” We build relationships along the way and discover the greatest joy in the journey is the sharing of our discoveries. The flame of God’s presence lights our way and helps us rise to achieve our dreams. This flame comes and goes but it is there when we most need it. As we sail into the summer of our lives, our speed increases. The only turbulence occurs if we “push against the goads” as a voice once called to the Apostle Paul, if we strain against what is. We are not in control, but that is ok. We are meant to experience life in the raw, without a thousand empty conveniences and life-distracting contraptions.
As the Heavens beckon, in the second half we must recall our origins and make peace with the ground we felt was so below us. It is only then that we realise we are somewhere very different to where we imagined decades ago. Now we must gently surrender our lofty ambitions to the earth that is waiting to greet us back into her arms. This is no plummet. It is merely letting go. There is often much fear at what the end will be like, but we need not see it as the grave stealing our life away, but us surrendering it back willingly. A kiss of the earth. The flame is extinguished, the hot air leaks from our lungs one last time, our chests deflate and then the great Mystery claims us in a journey beyond all reckoning.